A unique combination of a sequencer, graphic design and word processor that produces printed music. Notation software programs vary in complexity from simple versions for creating “lead sheets” for pop songs to full-featured programs that are capable of visually representing the extreme notation needs of contemporary orchestral and choral scores.
It’s important to understand the difference between the “staff view” and printing options offered by many sequencers and the output of notation software. Think of a sequencer this way: it is optimized to make your music sound exactly the way you want it to sound. This includes note durations that are exactly what you want them to be, instrument pitches that play in “concert” key, rather than the actual transposition of, say, a saxophone, and intricate rhythms. The staff or score view of most sequencers attempts to notate all of these in the most literal fashion; i.e. that quick brass stab might appear as a 32nd note followed by a string of 32nd rests. Or bass guitar notes appear in the octave in which they sound, rather than transposed up an octave as they normally appear on paper. Further, few sequencer print functions adequately handle special musical instructions such as crescendos, accelerandos, or other performance instructions.
Notation programs, on the other hand, are optimized to make your music look the way it should to make sense to musicians reading the parts. It allows you to insert articulations, grace notes, dynamics changes such as “hairpins” that indicate crescendos and decrescendos, and much more. It thinks the way musicians who read music think. The brass stab example above would likely be notated as a quarter note with a dot above its head to tell the players that the note is short. Most notation software also has enhanced lyric-entry capability that allows positioning lyrics under the correct notes, plus special fonts that help distinguish musical instructions about tempo, volume and other matters.
Prior to the development of computers and printers with sophisticated graphics capability almost all printed music was hand-copied or engraved. Now notation software is so common that little printed music, other than archival copies of classical music and some jazz and popular “fake books,” exist in engraved form. In fact, Warner-Chappell, the world’s largest publisher of print music, employs thousands of freelance music copyists with the stipulation that they all use Finale, a common notation program.